Just as I was about to hit the keyboard to write this review, my friend Rena rang saying, "Wasn't that just a particularly spectacular lunch yesterday!"
We'd been in Locks Brasserie, a spot I have loved since the 1980s, with its colourful history and clientele. While other 'hipster' and 'celebrity openings' might create tacky razzle-dazzle on social media, Locks gets classier.
Its location by Dublin's Grand Canal is stunning. Its views of drifting swans, the parade of eclectic, colourful walkers, cyclists, big dogs, little yappy dogs and buggy pushers, are an entertainment in themselves.
Inside, its cool, cream, tongue-and-groove walls were never more in vogue. A few years ago, it was taken over by Sebastien Masi and Kirsten Batt, of the superb Pearl Brasserie on Upper Merrion Street. The enterprising duo enhanced the contemporary feel with the addition of tan leather to its banquettes, contrasted by lime button-backed leather chairs, and burnt-orange tableware.
What sparked our visit was the arrival of new head chef Karl Breen, whose culinary pedigree includes Knockranny House in Westport, Gregan's Castle in Co Clare, and The Greenhouse in Dublin. We have a lot of very good young chefs in Ireland now and, if Breen's food is consistently on the level that we experienced, he will be aiming for a Michelin star.
The format now is a fine-dining dinner menu with 2/3 courses priced at €45/€55, or a five-course tasting menu at €75. However, I also spotted their 2/3 course lunch menu at €28/€35, which runs from Friday through Sunday. A good way to experience top restaurants is with their lunch menus. You might be missing some of the luxury tweaks of the dinner menu - such as lobster with hake or foie gras with beetroot - but you experience the same level of expertise and service.
A young French waitress, looked after us in exemplary fashion, bringing us bread, salted butter and bottled water (€4.50). This was followed by a globular glass bowl containing the most delicate appetiser of Manchego cheese custard, topped with tomato jelly, cucumber dice, pine nuts, micro herbs and crispbread.
With a choice of three dishes on the first and second courses, Rena's crushed beetroot was paired with apple, watercress, and a Brillat-Savarin mousse, while I had 12-hour-cooked octopus, which had all of its nobbly pieces moulded together into a creamy pink, 'crazy paving' rondelle. This was set off with black garlic ribbons of salted celeriac, kohlrabi chips, tamarind, and calamansi (an Asian citrus fruit) mayo. Both were wonderful.
The high performance continued with Rena's hake, which was seared to a glistening caramel colour and illuminated with wild garlic, courgette cubes, tomato jam and polenta dice.
Loin of rabbit, for me, was paired with morels, nettles, carrot puree, broad beans and kale, again with each element full of its own distinctive flavour.
We elongated our experience by first sharing one dessert, and then turning a cheese plate option (€5 supplement) into a fourth course. First up, a Kilner jar held creamy lemon posset, topped with vibrant blood orange segments, jelly and sorbet.
As for the cheeses, the pungent 'pong' from the fromage d'Epoisses was worth the €5 alone! There was also a double cream Brillat-Savarin and three other equally great cheeses, accompanied by smoked onion, fig chutney and barley crispbread. Two espressos (€10) came with petit fours, coconut marshmallows and pretty macarons. It was a virtuoso performance on all fronts, including our bottle of crisp, citrusy, Les Charmettes Viognier 2014 (€32), which brought our bill, with service, to €133.50.
1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello,
Tel: (01) 420-0555
Pier Road, Kinsale, Co Cork.
Tel: (021) 470-6866
Style: When it comes to ocean views, Vista's new first floor terrace is on a par with Nice or Cannes. All-day food rolls smoothly from great morning coffee to seafood plates, pizzas, burgers, steaks and long relaxing evenings
Try: Sizzling tiger prawns, aioli, sourdough, €18
Drinks: Extensive wine list from €23. Lots by the glass
Rosses Point, Co Sligo.
Tel: (071) 917-7173
Style: Bursting with old-world atmosphere and nautical artefacts, Harry's is a gastropub overlooking Sligo Harbour. Excellent casual grub and great musical sessions
Price: Mains €12.50-€25
Try: Sligo Bay seafood pie, €15.95
Drinks: Full bar
Hanover Quay, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 675-3875
Style: This urban eatery has views over Grand Canal Dock and is beside the Bord Gais Theatre. Breakfast, lunch, brunch and pre-show dinner
Price: Mains €15-€22
Try: Grilled halloumi salad - couscous, grilled lemon, chipotle and coriander marinated halloumi, apricot and fig compote, €17
Drinks: Pimm's by the glass or pitcher; wine, beer, sherry and port
Sunday Indo Life Magazine